Kerala CPM's state of in-betweenness: Is the Left party deviating from its political, ideological track?

A debate in Kerala that has been gaining currency is CPM's state of living ‘in-betweenness’ with the paradox that it’s consistency has been watered down by the party which has been adversely affected by it. The locus of the debate is how did the CPM let it happen?

Though this complicated question does not produce a simple conclusion, the finality of the answer has a surprise; it is the unusual sameness of the answer. This sameness worries many in Kerala as it is increasingly telling a particular state of the party which produces an array of substantial complications for the Left in Kerala. Many believe that these complications act as self-annihilators as well. Such scalding complications emerge from a peculiar state of CPM's becoming a state of in-betweenness — morally and politically.

Representational image. Reuters.

Representational image. Reuters.

In this state, the party seems to be standing in an abstract state of existence, overlooking a part of its own trajectory in terms of ideology, practice and popular memory. More clearly, the party, which has been at the forefront of fighting the Hindutva organisations in Kerala, seems to feel that squeezing itself to be overtly different from certain new narratives in the age of fear can be a political miscalculation. Subsequently, though tenacious in everyday physical dealings with organisations like the RSS, the contour of the party’s ideological counters against the Hindutva has changed.

One decisive factor in the making of this ‘new becoming’ has been the steady growth of the Hindutva and the emotional impact it creates in the political structure of Kerala. Till recently, Hindutva’s gerrymandering around the martial-bovine narratives did not decide the political expression and policies in Kerala. However, such colonising narratives have now found expressions in the larger engagements of the party, a clear symptomatic of a different political patter it has willingly or unwittingly framed for itself. These advanced to serious ruckus with CPI, party’s strongest support. The CPI has now attained the role of the Opposition and has been at the forefront of ‘correcting’ the party and the Left government.

The CPM's police policy and the activities of the police have been quite contrary to what the party has been advocating in Kerala. It started with the appointment of Lokanath Behra as the new DGP, removing TP Senkumar, who has been vocal about the casteist structure of Kerala police. Removal of Senkumar who belongs to a lower caste group and replacing him with Behra, whose political/ideological affinities are not top secrets, cast the first doubt about the political and ideological track the CPM would follow in the coming days. However, after the Supreme Court order, Senkumar has been reinstated as the DGP.

A series of UAPA cases that followed created not only a panic button in the state but major apprehensions about the political agenda of the party itself. Such panic situation was further fuelled by a major ‘Maoist encounter’ in which two suspected Naxalites were shot dead point blank. Political observers say that CPM's new-found vigour for ‘Maoists hunt’ emerged from the narratives around the martial solution to the ‘nation’s problem'. Similarly, appointment of Raman Srivastava, who attained notoriety for allegedly making an explicit anti-Muslim statement in 1991, became a serious, setback moment.

According to various post poll surveys, in the last Assembly election, Muslim vote share of the Left increased 6 to 7 percent and it will be very difficult for the CPM to justify the appointment of an officer whose ‘known communal antecedence attitude’ has been discussed by three generations of Muslims now.

Can these developments be seen as a tendency of the party to equate the logic of cultural nationalism as the new ideological cognition of the Left? Its recent engagements with ‘body protests’ like Kiss of Love and sympathy for moral vigilantism also lead us to examine the situation. Controversy around C Ravindranath, the education minister in Pinarayi Vijayan’s government, is another example of the party’s state of in-betweeness. He equated meat eating with ‘violence’ and ‘unnatural.’ In a predominantly non-vegetarian state like Kerala, this categorisation in the age of bovine nationalism has not been taken as an innocuous ‘taken out of context statement, ’as he explained it later. Similarly, MM Mani, minister and a powerful CPM leader from southern Kerala unleashed a clear sexist barb recently on Pempila Orumai, a plantation-based women collective. He abused them of being ‘immoral women who do not have ethical credibility.’

Such expressions about ‘morality’, ‘dietary discipline’, and CPM's support for the ‘Spirit in Jesus’ an evangelical group which is emerging as the biggest land mafia in the hill stations of Kerala are examples of how certain brahmanical dispositions have affected the expression of the CPM in the state. Currently, the party lives in a state of in-between – when it counters land grabbers who do it in the name of religion, when it deals with women who assert autonomy and independence, when it engages with lower caste groups who begin to identify differently, when it negotiates with the global narratives around Muslims and Islamophobia, when it engages with a mass of skilled, educated but unemployed youth who don’t believe in bonded party politics, and when it deals with the Hindutva which is trying to enlarge its base in Kerala. When deep unclarity prevails in such locations, the CPM is also losing an ideological battle. It is forced to believe in the currency of present age — the charisma of a populist ruler who is entrapped in a state of self-love with certain monosyllabic assertions.

This crisis tends to get bigger as the party continues to alienate intellectuals who were part of a cognitive tradition which critically engaged with the larger Left politics. Due to continuous purging and purathakkal (removal) from the public sphere and affiliated organisations, the CPM started facing a Bengal-like situation wherein it stopped associating with intellectuals and serious political observers. They had deep understanding of the Left’s cartographical and emotional existence. Now, these critical insiders have been replaced by a set of reactive intellectuals who strive to defend the undefendable. The party’s increasing inefficiency to differentiate between brahmanical dispositions — ideological, pietistic and performative — and a state of in-betweeness emerge from these situations and the confusion about managing its prime electoral constituency — Hindu lower caste population.

Updated Date: May 10, 2017 21:17 PM

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